CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
NOVELTY HAIR GOODS COMPANY
The son of Solomon Bellitz, Samuel Bellitz was born in Russia in 1890. He had come to America in 1902. Married at 21, Samuel Bellitz by June of 1917 had settled in Camden NJ. In June of 1917, when he registered for the draft, Samuel Bellitz lived and operated his business, the Novelty Hair Goods Company at 775 Kaighn Avenue. 775 Kaighn Avenue later became the property of the Naden family, who operated their business, the Naden Store there for several decades.
When the Census was taken in April of 1930, Samuel Bellitz and his wife Rose, had three children. The Census states that he was working as the manager of a wig business in Philadelphia. The Bellitz family then lived at 1743 George Lane in Philadelphia. They apparently returned to Camden in the early 1930s, along with his brother Henry, and either brought his business over from Philadelphia or began it once again in Camden. The 1947 Camden City Directory shows that Bellitz family, like many other Jewish families of that era, had settled in the Parkside section. They resided at 1132 Empire Avenue. Samuel and Rose Bellitz eventually moved to Oaklyn NJ. Samuel Bellitz passed away in 1970 at the age of 80.
The Novelty Hair Goods Company originally made head coverings for Orthodox Jews, then branched out into toupees, wigs, false beard, mustaches, and goatees. Other products included hairpieces for Halloween costumes, the Mummers parades, and Santa Claus hair and beards. The company sold as many as 250,000 pieces a year, and at one time employed up to 45 people, working two shifts, at their factory on Broadway.
The family-run business was a fixture on Broadway for over 70 years, before finally being forced to close in late 2003, a victim of cheap imports and a trade policy that failed (and continues to fail) to protect American manufacturing jobs. The July 2000 closing of Louisa's, a Mummer's supply shop, and the decision by the Mummers, in 2002, to drop wench wigs for their 2003 parade, did not help matters either.
Samuel Bellitz' brother, Henry Bellitz, owned and operated the Bell Pharmacy at Mount Ephraim and Kaighn Avenues from 1932 until his death in 1941. The Bell Pharmacy remains in business on that corner as of June 2006.
Philadelphia Daily News - December 11, 2002
Wench wigs dropped for 2003 parade
Style, $$ cited for switch to hats, tinsel
WENCH DRESS: Check. Beer pouch: Check. Hairy legs: Check.
Braided wig? Negative.
The wench wig, one of the most recognizable symbols of Mummery along with backpieces and parasols, will virtually disappear from the 2003 Mummers Parade.
For stylistic and financial reasons, the five largest wench brigades - more than 1,500 men and boys in dresses - have chosen not to reorder the long white or black wigs.
The new headgear: kerchiefs, tinsel hair, sombreros and parrot heads.
Even the legendary James "Froggy" Carr New Year Brigade, third-largest single unit on Jan. 1 with more than 600 marchers, has traded three-foot polyester braids for a mophead look to fit its Raggedy Ann theme.
"We're going in a bright red wig to stay with the costume," said Captain Tommy Malony. "Next year we'll be back to normal, I guess."
The switch isn't orchestrated or permanent; smaller units and unaffiliated wenches known as stragglers may still go wiggy, especially for the informal New Year's night parade along Two Street.
But it adds up to a break with tradition on a New Year's Day when the raucous and colorful wenches will otherwise be more visible than ever.
The brigades - Froggy Carr, Pirates, Riverfront, O'Malley and Bryson - will start the day with an unofficial cakewalk up Broad Street from Snyder Avenue, brass bands blaring.
That's just to reach the wenches' starting line at 16th and Market streets.
In the parade itself, the wenches will strut back to back at the end of the Comic Division, competing for first-ever special wench prizes. Then they'll entertain Mummers fans along Market East and end with a battle of the bands deep in South Philadelphia on New Year's night.
Wench wigs have been a staple in the Mummers Comic Division more or less forever. The costume is actually a macho statement, following Mummery's tradition of mockery and role reversal, and it's a cleaned up version of blackface costumes outlawed in 1964.
Wench guys still wear pantaloons, which they love to show with a bawdy flip of the hem, and their pouches often contain brewed contraband. Golden painted footwear also is a staple.
Braids come in two lengths. By custom, or maybe by tall tale, long braids identified over-21 wenches allowed to drink the nectar of the beer truck. Short braids went for teens banished to the soda bar.
One factor in the decline of wiggery, says Riverfront Captain Tom Kelhower, is cost: $10.50 wholesale and about $15 retail for the long braids, $5 wholesale for the shorter version.
That's $2,000 saved for Riverfront, 191 strong, strutting in Mexican-style "Wencheros" dresses this year. "We're wearing sombreros and kerchiefs," Kelhower said. "It's a lot cheaper."
Wenches used to be free-lance individuals but, in recent years, have formed into brigades. Several have opened year-round clubhouses and charge their strutters up to $190 for the costume and partying rights.
While South Philly closets bulge with old Mummers suits and dresses, wigs rarely survive a single day's merriment. Cleaning and deodorizing are out of the question.
Odd man out in the wigless revolution is Alan Miller, president of Novelty Hair Goods Co., of Camden, the prime maker of wench wigs since the 1950s.
Miller said he's sold as many as 1,500 of the handmade, labor-intensive wigs some years, but hasn't had a single order for 2003.
"We're a seasonal company, we primarily make beards and wigs for the Halloween and Santa Claus industries, and it was a nice little fill-in," Miller said. But, he added, "I don't have an outlet any more."
Miller used to sell through Louisa's, a Mummers supply shop at 2nd and Moore streets. A building collapse killed owner Adolph Stahl in July 2000, and the wig trade has suffered.
The parade's second-biggest club, the Pirates, started the wigless trend. The mateys adopted pirate-style bandannas for their first strut in 1995, to go with those pirate dresses and pirate bloomers.
Bryson, a family brigade that traces its roots back a century, really shook things up with tinsel hair in 1997 when they copped first prize for wenches-in-space. This year they're Jimmy Buffett clones with parrot heads.
"The theme dictates it. It's personal choice," said Mikey "Gootch" Bryson, a leader of the 125-member Bryson NYB and an organizer of the all-wench miniparade.
Camden Courier-Post - November 29, 2003
Faux hair shop in Camden going out of business
Cheap Chinese labor dooms family firm
By EILEEN STILWELL
No more polyester beards on Broadway.
No more plaited "wench wigs" for the Mummers on Broad Street.
And no more clouds of fake white hair to transform any Daddy into Santa Claus.
This week, the Novelty Hair Goods Co., a unique family business in a desolate block on Broadway, will close after 70 years.
The reason, said Alan Miller, whose grandfather started out making head coverings for Orthodox Jews to be buried in, is China, home of cheap labor and free trade.
At the same time, Miller, 51, of Cherry Hill, concedes he was so busy making a living exclusively on fake beards, wigs, moustaches and eyebrows with almost no competition, that he failed to diversify or mechanize.
The party's over Friday.
The windowless, un-air conditioned shop will close. Miller will say goodbye to three loyal Camden women who have sat at the same Singer sewing machines for decades making "cartoon-like" hair pieces.
"I'll miss coming here," said Barbara Krogman, 68, dashing out to catch a bus to her Fairview home. "I feel bad because we all get along here. Just goes to show you, nothing stays the same."
In its heyday, Novelty Hair Goods sold 250,000 hair pieces wholesale to costume manufacturers across the country. Last year sales dropped below 15,000.
"I may be the last domestic manufacturer of hair goods left doing any volume," said Miller, father of two teenagers and chairman of the Cherry Hill Planning Board.
In the 1960s and 1970s when Halloween was growing into a major costume holiday, 45 employees kept the factory humming two shifts a day to meet the demand.
Even then, offshore manufacturing was posing a threat, but minimum orders were so large, only very few American companies could participate. That, too, has changed in China's drive for increased sales.
"I hung in because I believed that eventually the public would start demanding American-made goods again and we'd be fine. It was a very innocent, unsophisticated view of the world," said Miller, recalling an era when his neighborhood was dotted with banks, restaurants, movie theaters and thriving retail.
Miller has very mixed feelings about the kind of random protectionism that seems to be part of President Bush's trade policy.
Last year, Bush imposed tariffs on imported steel in an effort to protect domestic manufacturers and some say to secure votes in post-industrial states like Pennsylvania.
Recently, the White House targeted Chinese bras as the next import to be slapped with a tariff, a move that has befuddled a number of economists.
"The announced import restraints on Chinese-made lingerie will not create one single new job in the U.S. nor will it dramatically impact our payment imbalances," said David Kotok, an economist and money manager in Vineland.
While Bush's move has generated some novel vocabulary, like "brahaha" instead of "brouhaha over bras," it stymies Miller.
"How do you pick and choose which industry to protect? Thirty years ago, when there were broad-based tariffs and they were enforced, everybody knew the score. Today, it's: Do I flood the market with cheap shoes, but close every shoe repair shop? Do I save the steelmakers, but put the longshoremen out of work? I'm over being angry. It just rankles me," said Miller.
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